June 26, 2008

Tomáš Kaberle

(info about Tomáš Kaberle)

A captain ready to do the job well

Thomas Kieller

Tomáš Kaberle: Enjoying the moment.

Gifted with a clear game sense and with a leadership temperament, Tomáš Kaberle is for the 2008 World Hockey Championship the captain of the Czech national team where many veterans show their talents. Surrounded by Elias, Plekanec, Kotalik, Vrbata and Erat, this defenseman does not only play on the blue line but quite often he supports the attack for his country which he does also with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Well known distributor of passes, he creates for his teammates numerous scoring situations. His vision of the game is noticeable! In this experimented national team, this reserved defender who is quite friendly will not hesitate a moment to show the example by fighting to the end. A talented player who is determined to do the job well!

The interview took place on May 2, 2008 at 12:30 in the press conference room of the Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec City, Canada, one of the two arenas where the 2008 World Hockey Championship was held.

Prelude – Making his way through twenty Czech journalists, Tomáš comes to talk to me about the preparation of the Czech team for the world championship.

Experienced team

Thomas Kieller: Entering the 2008 World Hockey Championship in Canada, the Czech team was not considered the favourite team. It was considered behind home team Canada and the powerful Russia. But you gave a heck of a battle against the Russians in the second game. Your team had the upper hand but unfortunately the result was not there at the end; you lost 5-4 in overtime. Is it an early warning?

Tomáš Kaberle: Yes, I think that our second game was pretty good, but still I’m sure we can play a little bit better defensively and stay out of the box, especially during the important games. You have to stay focused on that part because the special teams can make a difference in such a tournament. We took so many penalties against Russia and we know that they have players who are good stick-handlers and they can make a difference. Concerning our team, we scored four goals on power plays as well which is good. However, you must find a way to win the hockey game and for that you have to stay mentally tough by avoiding bad penalties and stay always on the good side of the puck.

Thomas Kieller: So, you can learn from a defeat like this?

Tomáš Kaberle: Of course, we know that they have a very good team and that match was a very good test for us. Hopefully in the next few games, we will be smarter.

Thomas Kieller: When entering such a tournament where the invitations are done in a hurry, what is the strategy to unify the team?

Tomáš Kaberle: In the recent years, the Czech team had and still has a good chemistry inside the dressing room with a good bunch of guys. We have a lot of fun together and this is an important aspect to be successful outside the rink and on the ice. Still, the main things are that you have to show up every night, give your 100% and believe in each other. One or two guys will not make a difference. You have to play as a team.

Thomas Kieller: Do the sessions of practice count a lot to solidify a team or is it just based on pure talent because it’s a two week tournament?

Tomáš Kaberle: No, it’s not really about talent. I will have to say it is more about timing, meaning playing good at the right time of the tournament. Obviously, it starts with the elimination rounds when you get to the quarter-finals, and it applies after for the semi-finals and finals. So, we know we have to win the last three games of the tournament to be as successful as we wish.

Thomas Kieller: So, practices are still useful for the team in this kind of tournament?

Tomáš Kaberle: Oh yes, you need to practice on what you want to do on the ice and on what you want to bring to the game. We have been together for the last four weeks and it will make a big difference to.

Thomas Kieller: About these four weeks like you said, on what has head coach Alois Hadamczik focused during training?

Tomáš Kaberle: You concentrate on pretty much everything obviously, but first it starts with the defence, then you focus on the neutral zone and then you go with the attacking part. You are well aware that the Czech team has always been known as a good scoring and skating team. We have played that way so far.

Thomas Kieller: As the tournament goes, does the team have time to solidify itself?

Tomáš Kaberle: Yes, we would like to see at every game some improvements by doing the little things well. Hopefully, we will have all those things put together well at the right time, meaning in ten days from now.

Thomas Kieller: You know the drill quite well. You have represented your country at four World Hockey Championships and at two Olympic Games (Salt Lake City and Turin). You know what has to be done to win a gold medal like your team did at the World Championship in Austria in 2005. Do you think the rest of your team knows what has to be done?

Tomáš Kaberle: Oh yes, everybody knows what we came here for. Everybody wants to win the gold and this is the main goal for the Czech players, but we have to focus like I said on the little things of the game not yet on the whole picture. We have to make it first to the quarter-finals and then we will see what will happen. I have to say that everybody on our team is on the same page. There are guys in the dressing room that won in Austria and the years before and that makes a good team.

Role of the captain

Thomas Kieller: You are an experienced defenseman with nine seasons in the NHL and approximately 40 selections with the national team and now you are wearing for the first time the C. How do you live the captain’s role on the ice and off?

Tomáš Kaberle: Everybody is different and plays the role of captain his own way. I’m a little bit of a quiet guy, but on the ice when I think it’s not the right call I will talk to the referee to give our opinion. I just try to focus on what I have to do on the ice and when it’s time to perform I will do it. I’m trying to lead this way. In the Czech dressing room, everybody is a leader and nobody is quiet in there. We talk to each other and that is pretty much it.

Thomas Kieller: Can you tell me a little bit more on how head coach Alois Hadamczik and general manager Zbynek Kusý gave you that responsibility? Did they give you a reason or a specific role or it’s obvious what you have to do as a captain…

Tomáš Kaberle: We all know. I have been under captain David Výborný who has been a long time the captain of our team. In a way, I have learned from him by watching what he has done. Concerning the role of captain, you have to focus on the aspect of organizing stuff, but mainly it is on the ice with the team that you play this role. So, they did not give me advice on what to do. It all comes from you!

Thomas Kieller: The Czechs will need some character to overcome the powerful teams! When you wear this C, does it lift you up to do more?

Tomáš Kaberle: No, I don’t think it changes my implication. There are a lot of things with the media and some other things off the ice, but it does not make a big difference for me. I’m just trying to do the best on the ice, giving my 100% every day and hopefully our team will be successful.

Thomas Kieller: Representing your country is not something new for you, but are you still proud to do so?

Tomáš Kaberle (with emotion): Obviously yes, it’s always special. When I was a little kid and growing up watching hockey, I admired our national team. I remember some of my past teammates who are not playing anymore. It’s quite a special feeling! Everybody wants to play for the national team and we all take pride in doing so. It does not matter if you are playing for your country for the first time or ten times, it’s always the same for you. When the team is successful, you know something good is happening.

Thomas Kieller: Is there a difference between playing for your country and playing for the Maple Leafs?

Tomáš Kaberle: I take pride in both situations. I love the Toronto Maple Leafs. Like you said, I have been there for the past nine years and I would like to win the Stanley Cup there. So, hopefully it will happen one day. Obviously, the team was not doing so well the last few years, but that does not mean we cannot play well in the future. It’s the same thing for the national team; it’s always a special occasion.

Thomas Kieller: In the Czech Republic, is there a lot of expectation and pressure with this year’s team?

Tomáš Kaberle (answers in an instant): Oh yes, there is always pressure and I think it’s a good thing when everybody has high expectations. We know that we have a good team, but there are lot of other good teams around like Finland, Sweden, United States, Canada and Russia. It’s all about timing and a little bit of luck toward the end. So, you just have to give everything out there, work hard and do the little things well especially in a tournament like this. Good results will happen eventually.

Thomas Kieller: Finally, can you tell me good reasons why a spectator should come see the Czech Republic play and why should they cheer for your team?

Tomáš Kaberle (laughs): We always give a good show. We don’t play boring games. Well, we play an exciting game with a fast pace that the fans like and of course most of the nights we come out with a win!

Thomas Kieller: Well said!